If you or a family member received a consumer genetic testing kit as a holiday gift, you probably weren’t alone. Sales of at-home DNA testing kits reportedly soared in 2017, as people sought clues to their ancestry or future health. Some genetic-testing companies encouraged the purchase of kits as holiday gifts — even offering free gift wrapping. However, the results from at-home DNA tests are proving problematic for some people, even as the tests’ growing popularity helps to raise public awareness of the link between one’s genetic make-up and their health. “We’ve definitely seen a steady increase in at-home genetic tests and an uptick recently, in part because of the new trend to give these tests as a family gift,” said Wayne Grody, director of the UCLA Molecular Diagnostic Laboratories and Clinical Genomics Center and a professor of pathology, human genetics and pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Our genetic clinic gets an increasing number of calls from people who either don’t understand the results or are upset and seeking someone to explain the findings to them.”
Grody notes that at-home DNA tests differ significantly from the much more comprehensive and scientifically rigorous genetic testing that is performed at UCLA’s genomics center. At the center, people undergo a comprehensive analysis and diagnostic interpretation of their entire protein-encoding genome, involving some 20,000 genes, to potentially locate the single DNA change responsible for a person’s disorder. Grody sees some value in the at-home DNA tests. From his experience, he has seen a small number of cases in which use of the tests has led to a quicker diagnosis of a medical condition than would otherwise have happened. “Also these at-home tests have provided a kind of education and stimulation of interest about DNA among people who didn’t have a genetics background in school or who had forgotten it,” he said.